Strike-Slip, the much-anticipated Little Theater production written by Naomi Iizuka and directed by Assistant Professor Heather Anderson Boll, will run Nov. 15–18. Anderson Boll has acted professionally for over 20 years in New York and the Regional U.S., including in the world premiere of Strike-Slip. She recently sat down with the Review to talk about her Oberlin directorial debut, intensive rehearsals with student actors and what she has admired most in her artistic mentors.
Tell us a little bit about Strike-Slip.
This production of Strike-Slip follows the lives of characters … [who] bump up against each other or slip past one another on their way toward self-realization. The particular meetings and collisions between cultures is significant, as a backdrop for their shared post-Rodney King Los Angeles and post-Crown Heights U.S. But the story is much more about the complex humanity of the characters themselves, the struggles of children claiming a new identity while parents try to honor the past; the richness of mature love that has no easy answers, the regrets and healing within a family unit; and the individual’s search for meaning amidst random tragic events.
It’s the kind of rich, inclusive story that we at Oberlin tend to crave, I think, but it’s a play that speaks to all people, all communities outside of Oberlin too. It’s like a Crash or Babel, films that came out around the same time as this play’s original production — overlapping and interlocking stories, and voices directly included in a way that we don’t get to witness nearly often enough on the U.S. American stage.
The language is poetic, gritty, honest, with a purpose. All characters have a unique story, no one is marginalized in the playwriting itself. That is so hard to come by. It’s contemporary, urban, fresh — a true ensemble piece that requires an absolutely stellar acting ensemble to tackle such subtle, yet poetic, language and complex human beings.
You have some personal history with this play too, don’t you?
Yes, this play is also extremely personal to me. I originated a role in the world premiere production of Strike-Slip at Humana Festival [of New American Plays] / Actors Theatre of Louisville in 2007. [Playwright] Naomi Iizuka was in the rehearsal room for the entire process, and discoveries we made about our characters one day would show up in the script rewrites the next. We had a to-die-for cast, absolutely loved each other. It was one of the handful of projects in my life I am most proud of.
What’s so exciting about passing it on, though, is how unique each actor’s take on any role gets to be. The writing doesn’t prescribe acting choices or line readings at all, and if you let it, it will live in each person completely differently. Of course I’m shaping the storytelling as the director, and I have my own desires separate from the production I performed in, so I’m protecting the company from knowing too much about our original performance until after we close!
As a director, I guide actors toward what I think is imperative in a scene, but I’m so honored to pass these roles on to this new student company and set them free to embody their roles in ways that only each of them can possibly do.
What has your rehearsal process been like this time around with the play?
Since this play requires ultra-naturalistic acting and subtle listening, I wanted to create a rehearsal process that would operate as a kind of course on a naturalistic approach. … We have a nine-week rehearsal process, within which we have moved slowly through the play’s scenes with site-specific improvisation. We start with the text — long, luxurious table work — then go to a real-life location, or something close to it, and improvise from the moment the scene begins, allowing the improv to veer from the scene if it needs to.
Actors discover raw impulse in their own words that match or differ from their characters’, and more importantly, they discover their own hearts in their roles. We then take all those discoveries and put them immediately back into the text, applying new understanding to the words as written.
We’ve been so lucky to receive tremendous generosity of neighborhood establishments who’ve given us their space to conduct these improv/rehearsals, such as local bars; Oberlin Inn let us actually use a room for a rehearsal, and Grafton Correctional Institution took us on a full tour, let actors sit in a cell, take in a questioning room and talk to inmates.
Any parting thoughts about the qualities you’ve admired in great artists, actors, colleagues or directors that you’ve worked with?
Great artists, when they’re the real deal, are consistently also really great people — kind, humble, generous, disciplined and receive whatever you send them just as you receive from them. I had the most amazing scene partner in the 2007 production of Strike-Slip — just effortless, completely safe, devoted to the work and so completely respectful of me and what we were trying to create. That whole company was to-die-for, we were forever friends, instantly, and when my husband came to visit they swarmed him with love, too. … The level of artistry you can reach when you have true trust and mutual respect is shockingly great.
Another exceptional experience was last spring in Iphegenia 2.0, playing Clytemnestra with director Matthew Wright for Oberlin College and Cleveland Public Theater. Matt had such incredible insight and guidance, but also gave me such freedom to play, to listen to my heart and to invent. He was my confidant; he gave permission for silence, stillness and outrageous invention. And then he’d whisper with me and he’d know just how much to say and how much to let me fill in. I love working like that. And to get to share the stage with my very first class of Oberlin students as they were about to graduate? It was truly a culminating moment for me.